Thoughts About the First Year of Medical School

After starting way back in August, I finally just finished my first year of medical school. Now it is time to enjoy the very last summer of my life. It is slightly depressing that this is will be my longest "vacation" until retirement, but right now it is just nice to have an abundance of free time (which I will use partly to start writing blog posts again). While everything about my school year is still very fresh, I wanted to write a post about some of the things I learned during my first year of medical school. As a fair warning, some of my musings will be practical and helpful, others will be personal and may not apply to anyone except me.

1. You Can't Learn Everything - Newsflash...there is a ton of material presented to you during medical school. It is hard to explain exactly how much to anyone who hasn't gone through it. One of the hardest parts about first year was learning what exactly to learn/understand/memorize and what to...kind of ignore. At my school a lot of the lectures are given by PhD's. This makes for interesting lectures, but also sometimes leads to a lot more information than is needed. I know I couldn't possibly memorize everything, so I picked my battles carefully.

2. Don't Buy All the Textbooks - The summer before school started we were given a list of "required" textbooks. I didn't buy them all, but I did purchase a few in subjects I thought were going to be especially tough. Looking back, I didn't really use them. There wasn't much enough time, and pretty much everything I needed was in my syllabus and/or review books (speaking of review books, Board Review Series Physiology was a life saver and really cheap). My advice, find someone in the class ahead of you and ask what books you actually need. Otherwise save some of that loan money!

3. Medical School is Hard - It isn't that the material is very hard, because to be honest, it really isn't that bad. Although there is a ton of information (see #1), the hard parts of medical school might surprise you. School can take over your life, especially when exams are close. The studying, and grind of studying then seeps into other aspects of your life: relationships, working out, eating right, having fun, etc. all take a back seat to medical school. Unfortunately, I was definitely guilty of this sometimes during the past year.

3a. Medical School Is Hard Again - Oh yeah, even though living a balanced life is super important, medical school and studying is ever present. Feeling a little sick? Had a huge fight with your significant other? Too bad, you still need to study. Of course life happens and everyone takes days off, but med school is a huge commitment and a lot is expected of you no matter what is happening in your personal life.

4. Learning is Much Easier When It's Interesting - Hopefully if you are going to medical school, learning about the workings and illnesses of the human body is interesting to you. Because that is exactly what med school is! I know that I was bored to death in some of my undergrad courses, especially if they didn't really seem applicable to my interests (I'm looking at you organic chemistry!). However I found at least 90% of what we learned about this year fascinating.

5. I Kind of Hate Anatomy - For me, working on a human cadaver was "cool" for about a week. After that it became a pain and a time sink for me. I just couldn't get excited by the subject. I felt like I was memorizing words and tiny details that I would never remember or use again. Anatomy also never came easy to me. It took me so much longer to learn anatomical structures than it did physiology or biochemical pathways.

6. Living > Working - There are some people in my class who eat, breathe, and sleep medicine. They spend most waking hours in the library...I am not one of those people. I have little interest in matching into dermatology or orthopedics and so I'm not worried about honoring every class. I know I picked the right field. I mostly love medical school and I am so excited for my future in this career. However at the end of the day, I want a fantastic life outside of the hospital. I want to travel the world and work to live, not live to work.

7. Do You - I was used to being one of the smartest people at my undergraduate. School (and A's) came easily to me. Suddenly I was thrust into a situation where I was always surrounded by brilliant people. I am no longer the smartest person in my class, nor even close. I am proud that I never allowed this to bother me. The grades, study habits, and personalities of my classmates didn't change the way I went about getting my work done. Being much closer to the average is a weird feeling at first.

8. Loans Suck - I don't like worrying about how much money to take out each semester. I really hate thinking about how much debt I will have hanging over my head after I graduate. I know I will pay it off, I just don't like it or the 6.8% interest rate.

9. Get Ready for These Questions - What kind of doctor are you going to be? Why does my _______ hurt? How many more years of school/training do you have? I think I got asked at least one of these questions every time someone found out I was in medical school.

I still can't believe how much I learned in a year (or how I still really know nothing about medicine). It was the most difficult year of my life, but also the most rewarding. The year both flew by, and crawled along at a snail's pace sometimes. I am so happy that I have a summer off to rebalance myself before second year and the weight of Step 1 scores. Most of all I am trying to enjoy the journey, not just looking towards the destination.